Friday, October 29, 2010


Allen Ginsberg in 1953, photographed in NYC by William S. Burroughs

Last Sunday, Roger and I went to see Howl. A movie about a poem? Sweet. A movie about a beatnik poem? Sweetness raised to the power of e. Allen Ginsberg wrote the poem Howl in 1955, and more importantly, he performed it for the first time on October 7th, my birthday, 8 years before I was born.

The movie opens with a black and white shot of that poetry reading, at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. Ginsberg is horn-rimmed and geeky, but energized by the enthusiastic crowd. The room is filled with smoke. But it's 1955, so the hipsters who are digging his poem are still dressed pretty conservatively, and it's only their zeal for his edgy verse that reveals their anti-establishment leanings.

Ginsberg is howling in the poem for Carl Solomon, his dadaist/surrealist friend who had admitted himself to a mental institution and had undergone shock treatments.

Ginsberg starts his poem,

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix;
Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.

In other scenes, Ginsberg putters around his apartment smoking and making tea, as he talks about poetry, writing, his father and mother, the so-called Beat movement, his friendship with Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, his homosexuality, and his relationship with Peter Orvlosky. The conversation comes from transcripts of an actual interview Ginsberg gave in 1957. It was interesting to hear him say he spent a lot of time diddling around as a writer; that the moments when he broke through to some truth were infrequent. And that he had worried about what his dad would think if he read some of his stuff.

The most dramatic moments of the film occured during scenes of the court trial that decided Howl's fate. Shortly after the poem was printed in 1957, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of the City Lights book store and publisher of Howl, was brought up on obscenity charges. The lawyers for both sides brought in "expert" witnesses, mostly college professors, who either argued that the poem had no literary value, or argued that it did. Ultimately, the judge ruled that literary merit was a subjective thing, and that living in a free society meant that people should be free to print and read poetry that contained a few naughty words. The naughty words: a few slang terms referring to female and male genitalia, and references to sexual acts, both straight and gay.

A footnote at the end of the movie said that the publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, is still a co-owner of the City Lights Book Store in San Francisco. Wowee. He's like 91 now.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts of Howl:

who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard
wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow

toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy

and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,
who loned it through the streets of Idaho

seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma

on the impulse of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston

seeking jazz or sex or soup,
and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America and Eternity,
a hopeless task, and so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico

leaving behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees
and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago,

ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe,
and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time—
and who therefore ran through the icy streets

obsessed with a sudden flash of the alchemy
of the use of the ellipsis catalogue a variable measure and the vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images juxtaposed,

and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual images
and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of consciousness
together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose

and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame,
rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown,

yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz

in the goldhorn shadow of the band
and blew the suffering of America’s naked mind for love
into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry
that shivered the cities down to the last radio

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Two Yards of Tiger-Striped Fleece

craft stores
swollen warts across the nation
festering with glues, glitter, fun foam
and bolts!
so many bolts of fabric and no way to buy it
it took me 45 minutes to buy two yards of tiger-striped material
I timed it
I knew exactly where the bolt was
I'd been in the store twice before --that same day
always, the line at the cutting table was too long for me to stay
only one lady at the cutting table ONE LADY!
lone cutting lady
hire some more people!
re-allocate your staff!!
mother of mercy!!!
should it be this hard to buy fabric?????????

they wore me down
probably only needed one yard
but I bought two
just to make sure i never ever had to come back

45 minutes from start to finish
I had bee-lined to the bolt of tiger-striped fleece
I'd already caressed twice before that day
Annabelle is going as a Tomahawk Tiger for Halloween
I took a number and joined the line
NUMBER 44!!!
a voice called out
my number was 57

Jo-Ann Fabrics is bursting at the seams
obese with inventory
it used to be a quiet store of manageable size
I could see the back of the store from the front door
then it moved
and merged with some craft retailer
and now it's big box hell
a behemoth with miles of aisles
workers running around re-stocking shelves
for the scrapbookers
and no one to cut fabric
you're a frickin' fabric store!!!
for the love!!!
cutting fabric should be your mission

plenty of room at the table
to arm three matrons with scissors
but no
keep old Agnes overworked and let the customers stack up like refugees at the railway
clutching our bolts as if they were all we could grab from our home at the last minute
scowling when Agnes seems too chatty and breezy with the customers ahead of us

the voice of Moloch calling out
NUMBER 48 is being served
you call this service?

I wandered the store, browsing fussy domesticities I didn't want
stencils, ribbons, raffia
walked the aisle of 1000 paints
what happened to the quaint corner
of sewing notions?
little packages of ric-rac
thimbles bobbins
so restful to the eye
ah, that was back at the old store

here, the shelves teem and shout
or is that my number they're shouting?
57! 57!
I'm here, I'm here!
I push aside a shopper in my way
The voice of Moloch.

I hurl myself to the cutting counter.
"I'm 57!" I rasp.

I am desperate.

Oh, Agnes, of hoary hands
Take mine cloth and cut.
She does, admiring the tiger fleece.
"This will keep them warm," she says.
No, it won't.
I can't sew. Am not sewing a whole tiger outfit here.
Despite the insane amount of yardage.
Only a tiger skirt and tail.
And maybe some fleece for the arms.
But I need margin for error.
And I need to never set eyes on this cutting table again!
So cut me two whole yards!
Besides, it's on sale.

Agnes hands me my tidy two yards and a cutting slip.
A cutting slip.
A cutting slip.
Take it to the register.
Where would that be? At the end of that roped-off maze over there,
the end of another line.
Go. Stand. Wait. Weep.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Wanna Live In Robot Town

Oh, if only I could weld....the robots I might create. Random metals are a wonderful thing, when they are brought together into anthropomorphic shapes. The first robot I ever loved was probably the big boxy one that stood outside the Arlington Motor Inn in my home town. An incongruous bit of whimsy in a town that was determinedly un-whimsical.

I had a metal collection for while, when I lived in Miami. On walks I would pick up odd bits of metal and take them home. Soon my collection outgrew its silver spray-painted cigar box and I moved them to a shirt box, placing them on a strip of green felt with sparkles, scavenged from a Christmas decoration. Enough metal to make a table-top robot. But I didn't have the skills.

Homemade robots made from assorted metals have an endearing quality that is part human and part retro sci-fi industrial, and I have long held that clunky robots are the best form of outdoor art. Baker Medlock, a local artist, is doing his part. He makes robots from found metal objects and has brought to life five large robots who stare out at passers-by from his yard. But Medlock knows this is not enough. He dreams of a wide-scale robotization of the KC landscape, and I applaud his vision.

He says,

“I’d love to donate some to parks and boulevards. Put out robots all over. I’m just lacking the space and the equipment. I’d like to get Kansas City known for bad robots, man.”

Bad robots. That's what I want!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Kerouac Haikus

And now it's time for more Haikus by Jack Kerouac

The cow taking a big
dreamy crap, turning
to look at me

Quietly pouring coffee
in the afternoon,
How pleasant!

A quiet moment
low lamp, low logs---
Just cooking the stew

Looking up to see
the airplane
I only saw the TV aerial

The little worm
lowers itself from the roof
By a self shat thread

Ship paint
an old T-shirt

Think of this one when you get caught without an umbrella:

The bottoms of my shoes
are clean
From walking in the rain

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day Of My Increasing Power

I went to Revocup today, since it's my birthday and ordered a LARGE soy chai latte. They have a fortune-telling 8 ball on the counter. I shook it, and it said, "Without a doubt." I forgot that I was supposed to ask it a question first. But this is better. Now I can craft my questions any way I want, so that the answer is "Without a doubt." Which is how it should be for the birthday girl.

Is today my birthday? Without a doubt. Do I look half my age? Without a doubt. Are people born in October more special than other people? Without a doubt. Am I exciting and stimulating to all who encounter me? Without a doubt. Am I becoming more physically attractive with each passing year? Without a doubt. Am I an undiscovered genius, unappreciated in her own time? Without a doubt. Am I too wonderful and rare and unique to be expected to play by society's rules? Without a doubt.

I do feel special today. Without a doubt, this day shines with significance. My sister Suzanne said in an e-mail that I'd made yet another trip around the sun. I like that. I've made 47 revolutions around the sun, on this earth ride. How many more to go? Once I leave this sun orbit, is it possible I'll move on to another star and begin a new orbit? No one really knows. The whole set-up--being born, watching our bodies change, wear out, then leaving again--is surreal. I think of babies as arriving with these huge souls that have to be squashed down into their squirmy, infant bodies. Or more likely, the human body can't possibly contain our souls. People talk about having an out-of-body experience, in which they are aware they have bodies but are separated from them. I think of our human existence as an out-of-soul experience. We spend our whole lives trying to get back to it. Once in awhile, something makes me feel like I'm back in my soul, before I pop out again.

Tucked away in some file, I have a certificate of recognition, given to me on this day. A certificate just for agreeing to come here! Everyone gets one when they come. Some people even get a gold foil stamped seal. Mine was issued in 1963 and looks like it was created using some crude microfilm technology. The paper is thin and fragile and the crucial facts are recorded in white text on a black background. Certificate of Live Birth, it says.

Wouldn't it be interesting if the certificate marked our entrance in astronomical terms? "This document certifies that the earth being named Simone commenced her first solar orbit within the Galaxy known as The Milky Way on the 280th day of the earth's rotation, October 7, 1963, which is henceforth to be known as the Day of Her Increasing Power.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ruby Or Iridescent Cough Drop?

This weekend it really felt like fall outside. So I was in the mood for this song, which to me, goes along with autumn weather and changing leaves. Kristen Hersh has said the song was inspired by the time her kid found a cough drop in the back seat of the car and said, "Is this a ruby?!!"

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Times They Are October'n

Ah, October, my favorite month.

This morning I drove Annabelle to her Strings class. She is learning to play "America" on her viola. On Fridays the Strings students meet at 7:00 am at Corinth School, then they are bussed back to Tomahawk. On the way to Corinth, she asked me if it was October. "Yes, it's October 1st!" I said gaily. She said she liked October. "What do you like about it?" I asked. She replied, "Tornadoes are rare."

Upon my prompting, she added that she also liked the way October smelled--it smelled like fall--and there was Halloween to look forward to.

After dropping her off, I continued on to a coffee shop. I take advantage of the ungodly hour of Friday morning Strings to hole up somewhere and write. The barista this morning is friendly, and reveals himself to be a kindred soul. You just never know where these people are going to turn up. He's going to Chicago soon to study literature. I asked him what type of literature he liked. He mentioned several things, including Dostoevsky, which I've never read, but probably should. He recommended "The Idiot." But he also said he liked contemporary philosophers. Who they? I asked. Who counts as a contemporary philosopher? He said you had to look for them, because most renowned philosophers of the past weren't really recognized until after they were dead. THEN he said he liked a lot of the Beatnik stuff. Well, I about died. He said he's obsessed with that and Bob Dylan. Well, shut my mouth. He is very young, and it's good to know someone born after 1980 can dig such 20th century relics.

He was in control of the coffee shop's soundtrack this morning, and it was Bob Dylan all the way. All manner and types of Bob Dylan, from scruffy folk tunes like "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" to the electrified wailing of "Idiot Wind," to his more wizened stuff of late.

What a fantastic way to start off October! It reminds me, I must download more Bob Dylan on my little Nokia music phone.

Now that brings me to another subject. Last week Roger showed me that I could plug my music phone into his external Ipod speakers--a big step up from my phone's speakers, which are the size of a stub of pencil lead. I was like, "This is great! This is awesome!" He pointed out how strange it is that now we are excited if we can play our little digital music files on something besides an ear bud. Yet 20 years ago, we were listening to our music on big-ass speakers. And I thought, "That is messed up." With all the advances in technology, what have we really gained? Yes, we have incredible access to hundreds of songs at the touch of a button, and we can take our music anywhere. But---we're listening to it through these little tinny speakers. WTF. Someday, so help me, when we have more living space, I am going to go vinyl. I am going to listen to albums again on big-ass speakers. We have our old stereo and turntable, but it's tucked away in the bedroom, and there is no place to put my old lps, except in the hot upstairs area. All those Bob Dylan albums, warping. Sigh.

Blood on the Tracks was the 2nd record album I ever bought. The first was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I had heard Sgt. Pepper's at Michele's, through headphones, and was mesmerized, especially by "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite". I bought Blood on the Tracks because I had heard so much about Bob Dylan, and was determined to discover what all the fuss was about. The first few listens didn't enlighten me. Then, with each rotation, I started hearing more and more things I liked--the unique character of Dylan's voice, the excellent guitar-harmonica-organ instrumentals. And finally, I got it.

I still remember those first two albums, Blood and Sgt. Pepper's, the pioneers in my collection, and how lonely they looked, leaning against the wall in my upstairs bedroom. I didn't even have a stereo on which to play them. Laura still occupied the downstairs bedroom, and wasn't keen on me going down there to use the record player. Ha! She wasn't keen --that's putting it mildly! She thrashed me senseless when she discovered I'd snuck down there while she was out partying with her friends. That record player was old and outdated anyway, so I knew I had to find the money somehow, to buy a stereo. But how? Where? There was only one place in town I knew of, and even though both Michele and Laura had warned me against it, I trotted down to the Dairy Bar one fall day and asked Frances G. for a job. And that was how I earned the $200 I needed to buy the cheap Sound Design stereo set that I took to college with me. Music has always been a great motivator for me.

By the time I left for KU, I had amassed a substantial collection of lps, both 60's/70's stuff, like the Beatles and Dylan, and new wave bands, like Split Enz and Squeeze. When mom protested about how many albums I wanted to transport to Lawrence, via the back seat of the car, I cried, "These are my life!" Maybe a little dramatic, but I felt they absolutely were the thing that sustained me.

So here I am now, a middle-aged woman, content, or maybe resigned, to listening to music through a speaker the size of a tin can. Too busy to download music onto my phone, too preoccupied to discover new bands. That's okay I guess --I probably don't need music filling my head constantly, like I did when I was a teenager. I'm listening to other things now --the voices of my kids, Garrison Keillor, and what is sometimes the most blissful of all --the sound of silence.

But hearing all that Bob Dylan this morning was a very happy thing --a sign that October has already started working its magic! That and the lack of tornadoes.